Discovering common ground in European social innovation projects: Mapping the BoostInno network collaboration

A while ago, I mentioned that I was going to share some exciting new community mapping projects I have been working on using my participatory community mapping methodology with online network visualization tool Kumu. After my post on mapping some Rotterdam Centres of Expertise, I now continue my series with the work I have been doing on mapping the collaboration in the URBACT BoostINNO project.

URBACT is an EU programme that aims “to enable cities to work together and develop integrated solutions to common urban challenges, by networking, learning from one another’s experiences, drawing lessons and identifying good practices to improve urban policies.”

BoostInno is one of the networks developed in URBACT,  with the aim to “enable public administrations to play a new role as public booster and brokers/facilitators of social innovation activities/projects/policies, by driving social innovation in, through and out the public sector.” Member cities include Gdansk (PL)-Lead partner, Paris (FR), Milan (IT), Turin (IT), Braga (PT), Barcelona (ES), Wroclaw (PL), Skane County (S), Baia Mare (RO), Strasbourg (FR), plus Lviv (UA) as an observer.

In preparation of one of its working meetings in Barcelona in November, I was asked to map the collaboration of the BoostInno network. Goal was to see if mapping this collaborative community of cities could help its members to make better sense of whom to work with and on what themes.  In particular, at this meeting, each city was to make a selection of other cities in the network to plan site visits to. Given that there were 11 cities present in Barcelona, and that there was only little dedicated time to meet and discuss with potential partners, it was felt that a map showing the common ground might be really helpful.

Prior to the meeting, we sent out a survey asking all cities to briefly describe 5 of their “flagship projects”, local projects that could serve as showcases of what they had to offer and share with their European peers. We also asked them to tag their projects with topics from the list of URBACT “Urban Topics”, concrete social innovation topics that cities work on and that URBACT has grouped in categories such as Integrated Urban Development, Economy, Environment, Governance, and Inclusion. Besides mapping those elements, I also added what “sharings” (concrete offerings) the cities wanted to “give” to and “use” from other cities. The resulting map literally shows the common ground of the BoostInno network, making it much easier to identify what is the common focus, but also to identify one’s own position and interests in the bigger scheme of things.

At the conference, I first presented the overall map, showing the big picture. However, I also set up a “mapping station”, where representatives of the various cities could come and see me. I then gave each of them a personalized tour showing how their city was positioned on the map, and what themes and  projects of other cities theirs was most closely related to.  In this way, precious meeting time could be used as efficiently as possible, as city representatives could more easily identify the potentially most relevant partners – also present in Barcelona – to talk to.

However, the buck didn’t stop there. As the BoostInno Lead Expert Peter Wolkowinski stated in his piece Why cities and their governance are vital keys to boosting social innovation, participatory community mapping goes way beyond the operational support. It has strategic political value too:

building communities depends on our capacities to intervene, to show results, to create maps, that allow intuitive sensemaking processes to exist. This in turn develops a common vision amoung participants, creating a very strong “social glue”. If used as tools for cross-fertilisation, for integrated action planning and doing, this kind of knowledge and feeling can be translated into political arguments, working at the core of the present crisis we are living through, where a total lack of trust has become what is common, but not what gives sense and unites different stakeholders.

As a now validated URBACT “Ad-Hoc Expert”, I aim to continue to work with the BoostInno team to weave my participatory community mapping methodology into the emerging social innovation approach of the network. I am excited to have this opportunity to keep working together with such committed people on ways to strengthen and share lessons about European collaboration on social innovation at the city level, the level where the conditions for the future prosperity and peace of our continent are being created…  To be continued.

The Tilburg story of knowledge sharing for social innovation

Last October, I gave an invited talk at the School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University, USA. Topic of my talk was “Knowledge Sharing for Social Innovation: The Dutch Tilburg Regional Case”. I published the slides of my talk in a previous post. In the meantime, however, with the help of the good people of Rutgers’ IT staff, I worked on creating an indexed YouTube version of the video recording that was made of my presentation. In it, you can find the Tilburg story of knowledge sharing for social innovation. It contains the slides combined with my presenting them, plus a very lively Q&A with the audience afterwards. In this YouTube video, you can watch me tell the full story. Click here to get a larger version (handy for reading those crowded slides!).

If you want to jump to a particular topic, see the index below the video.

Jump to:

Earlier, we identified the Tilburg region to be full of social innovations, but still being weak in the knowledge sharing about them. Hopefully, my talk is one of many, many more. Looking forward to learning about your own stories.

Pitching social enterprises at The Hub

Having finished my portal project, I am in Berlin now. As it’s been a very intense project, I really felt the need to “reset my brain” and decided to have a creative breather in Berlin. It’s a great city to visit for such a purpose, and to get inspiration for new R&D ideas. At the end of the week, I will be attending Barcamp Berlin 3.0, more about that later.

To warm up, I attended a nice event organized by Self Hub Berlin yesterday. Such hubs are increasingly being established in cities all over the world as creative places for social entrepreneurs. I already visited The Hub Rotterdam, and was curious to find out how things are done in their Berlin counterpart.

Yesterday’s event was dubbed “Pitching for Inspiration” and allowed a number of new social entrepreneurs to present their visions and solicit feedback from fellow entrepreneurs and other interested members of the audience. Afterwards, there was space and time for informal discussion. There was quite a variety of themes. To give you an idea, presentations included proposals for an institute for intergenerational learning, an academy for developing and realizing visions, a network of experienced entrepreneurs helping new ones, a theatre of young people performing for primary and high school kids showing them how to better deal with conflicts, an organization  that aims to apply “wisdom of the crowds” by allowing many persons to vote on competing project proposals after a bidding period in which the proposers develop and defend their project ideas using blogs, an initiative to use web mashups to show wheelchair-barrier free locations in first Berlin, then Germany, then the world. There was also a presentation of an already established annual contest in which students can develop communications campaigns for non-profit organizations.

Most proposals were still in quite a premature stage, but it was nice to see the variety and enthusiasm with which they were presented. These hubs are all about developing relations, connecting ideas, and releasing energy, and there was plenty of all that around.

It is interesting to see how these hubs are very much place, i.e. city-based, yet at the same time they are part of a growing worldwide network, a “meta Hub”, as one of the participants called it. They remind me very much of Saskia Sassen’s work on the global and the local being necessarily very much intertwined when trying to understand what globalization really means.  In particular, these hubs seem to be a key example of thinking communities, for which providing a good communications infrastructure and location, as well as resolving a wide range of social, professional, and financial constraints is essential for their success.

Meeting The Hub

It’s been a busy time with my projects, too busy to keep up my blog. Of course, that is no excuse as very useful finally-get-into-and-stick-to-that-writing-habit sites  like Write to Done try to tell us all the time. Well, us lesser mortals will have to keep practicing to get more disciplined, I guess.

On August 11, I attended a very inspiring lunch meeting at The Hub Rotterdam. Guest speaker was Maria Glauser, a host and co-director of The Hub London.  We all shared stories about what we do and aspire as the “social entrepreneurs” of the present or near future.  In their own words:

The Hub’s business is social innovation. Our core product is flexible membership of inspirational and highly resourced habitats in the world’s major cities for social innovators to work, meet, learn, connect and realise progressive ideas. The Hub is currently located in London, Bristol, Johannesburg, Berlin, Cairo, Sao Paulo and Rotterdam. Hubs are being started in Amsterdam, Brussels, Halifax, Madrid, Mumbai and Tel Aviv/Jaffa

I particularly like the summary of their essence, as described on The Hub’s main site:

People who see and do things differently

Places for working, meeting, innovating, learning and relaxing

Ideas that might just change the world a little

The Hub is pioneering concepts, methods, and techniques for enlightened social entrepreneurship. They should be watched as a creative catalyst, linking the worlds of high ideals with practical business. Although small in size, their ideas could and should influence more traditional innovation initiatives and networks, so their impact can spread more rapidly. It will therefore be interesting to find out how all these initiatives best connect with and mutually benefit one another.